If you’re interested in wine tastings, vineyards and wine tours in Italy, you need to know where to go. With more than 300 grape varieties and 20 different wine regions, this boot-shaped country can make your head spin before you’ve even had a drink. Don’t worry. Help with trip planning is at hand. Here are some of the top wine regions in Italy to visit.
Wine regions in Italy
My husband Mark and I stumbled by accident across the town of Montalcino, famous for Brunello di Montalcino, one of Italy’s best red wines. We were driving on a country road in Tuscany with the driver’s window open. A bee got sucked into the vortex, lodged beneath my seatbelt clip and bit me on the bum.
After several moments of hysteria including shrieking, hurling the bee to the floor and cursing my husband for his obsessive need to drive with the window open, we had to detour into the nearest town, which happened to be the hilltop town of Montalcino. I owe that bee a lot. After buying bee bite medicinal cream at the most atmospheric pharmacy I’ve ever seen, with views over the Tuscan hillside, we stopped in one of the town’s many wine shops.
Wine tours in Italy
Since it was clearly the thing to do, we did a wine tasting (an excellent solace for a bee bite), and it’s here we discovered Brunello, a deep-hued red wine made of Sangiovese grapes. Grown in the Montalcino region of central Italy, this famed Tuscan wine is ideal with meat such as Steak Florentine. Rich as a chocolate-covered plum, Brunello has dark fruit flavours such as black cherry and blackberry along with notes that range from oregano and dried fig to tobacco and leather.
It was an awakening. We already loved visiting Italy for its art, spas and food. Our impromptu wine experience added a new liquid layer to our trip and triggered our curiosity about other wine regions in Italy.
Tuscany for big reds
What we didn’t realize at the time is how huge wine tourism is in Italy, but we immediately came onboard. With our new found zeal for big reds we headed at once (or almost at once, first we went to the hot springs of Terme di Saturnia) to Montepulciano, the most famous Tuscan wine town of all.
Make no mistake. The medieval hilltop town of Montepulciano is crowded. It’s so crowded we had to park in a loading zone and got a parking ticket, which we had no idea how to pay or even to read. They finally tracked us down through our rental car. So if you’re doing a wine trip to Italy learn from our mistakes.
- Don’t park in a loading zone no matter how much you assure each other you’ll only dash into the old town and out. Once you discover all the free wine and charcuterie samples in the shops, you’ll stay longer than you intended. You’ll also spend a lot more money than you’d planned because the samples are so delicious and you want to take everything home.
- Don’t go to a popular wine town during summer in the middle of the afternoon if you want to avoid the crowds of wine tourists. Try to go early in the day, or during the off season.
- Make a valiant attempt to pay any parking tickets before you leave. I still don’t know how to do this.
- Consider looking at organized wine tours in Italy as mentioned here so you don’t need to park at all. Florence and Siena are good bases for touring Tuscany.
- Do buy the wine that the region you’re visiting is famous for. It’s a marvellous souvenir and an exquisite – if heavy – gift. In the case of Montepulciano, the wine to buy is Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, a full-bodied red wine with a ruby red hue.
Other wine stops in Tuscany
Of course there are other great wines in Tuscany. You can do a Chianti Classico wine tasting in the Chianti region between Siena and Florence or sample the Super Tuscans of Bolgheri – fabled wine destinations that have helped seal Tuscany’s reputation as one of the top wine regions in Italy.
But don’t get so caught up in Tuscany (except sometimes I do) that you ignore other vineyard rich areas in this boot-shaped country. Some regions are more traditional, some embrace the new, but whatever your tastes, here are a few top wine regions in Italy to check out:
Go to Veneto for Prosecco
Most people go to the province of Veneto to see Venice and rightfully so. Others might want to tour the region for its Palladian architecture (I did), or to see the Giotto frescoes in Padua (I did that, too). But here’s another reason: bubbles. Italy’s answer to champagne, Prosecco is a refreshing sparkling wine that is getting ever more sophisticated, and the Conegliano-Valdobbiadene region, about an hour northeast of Venice, makes some of the best.
More wine regions in Veneto
Veneto is actually the largest wine-making area in Italy and produces classics such as Soave and Valpolicella so there is plenty to see and taste, especially in the vineyards around Verona.
Perhaps most importantly, Veneto is home to our favourite red wine, Amarone della Valpolicella. With sultry flavours and aromas that range from dark berries and cherry cola to resin, licorice and soil, it’s a pricy (and so worth it) wine that takes a whopping 23 pounds of grapes per bottle to produce. (Most take about 2.6 pounds.)
Exploring the wines of Friuli-Venezia Giulia
Winning a place on my wine touring list because I adore a crisp Friulano with the light scent of pears is the wine-growing region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. Located to the east of Veneto up towards Austria and Slovenia, the slopes of these subalpine foothills produce some of Italy’s best white wines.
Friuli might be a white wine wonder destination but if you’re planning on doing any winery tours here, you should also think orange. Orange wines are one of the latest trends in viniculture and Friuli-Venezia Giulia is the very epicentre of this innovative direction. Produced in a manner similar to reds, orange wines have a longer maceration process in oak or clay vessels, which gives this hippest of hip sips a rich golden glow.
Palate pleasing Piedmont
Another top wine region in northern Italy is Piedmont. Located in the foothills of the Alps on the border of France and Switzerland at the very top west corner of the country, the vineyards of this mountainous region bring two of the greatest Italian reds to fruition: Barolo and Barbaresco. Both are made with the Nebbiolo grape.
As Piedmont is also white truffle country, a food and wine trip – especially in fall – filled with velvety Barolo from Langhe or a new generation wine from Roero can make one of the most aromatic wine tours to Italy of all.
Getting to Piedmont: The truffle-famous town of Alba lies between the wine regions of Langhe and Roero. It’s 40 miles (60 km) south of Turin and there are direct trains.
Sipping in Sicily
These days a hot destination for wine tourism is Sicily, a southern Mediterranean island that accounts for 30% of Italy’s wine production. As my husband and I hate to miss out on the latest ‘it’ destinations (actually, my husband could care less – it’s just me), we’re planning a trip there now. Admittedly we’re not just going for the burgeoning wine scene, but also the heritage, ruins and 600 miles of coastline – though Sicily’s renowned spicy red wine, Nero d’Avola, is a powerful draw.
Another of Sicily’s best-known wines is Marsala, a sweet wine fortified with brandy. While I’m still not a fan of sweet wines, I’m open to persuasion because things are so much better in situ, don’t you agree? And what a situ Sicily is. Between its volcanic soil (hello, Mount Etna) and ideal vine-growing arid climate – not to mention the raft of exciting new chefs and vintners springing up like clusters of grapes in sunshine, Sicily’s food and wine scene will definitely flavour our stay.
Adding a wine focus to your trip to Italy
Isn’t that the great thing about wine tourism? It can enhance any trip no matter what your reason for travelling or what wine regions of Italy you decide to explore. It can be full on with daily winery visits, tastings and escorted guided wine tours, or as simple as indulging in a robust Primitivo from Puglia with your spaghetti bolognese.
However you choose to create your own wine tour of Italy don’t just say cheers, do as the locals do and say cin cin.
Travel info for exploring wine regions of Italy
Getting to Montalcino: If you want to explore the wine towns of Tuscany, the easiest way is by car. Montalcino is 70 miles (110 km) south of Florence or 27 miles (42 km) south of Siena. You can also take a bus from Siena (about 70 minutes).
Getting to Montepulciano: Montepulciano is 1.5 hours’ drive south of Florence or about 2.5 hours’ drive north of Rome. You could take a bus from Chiusi Train Station (about 50 minutes).
Getting to Verona: Verona is about 100 miles (160 km) east of Milan or 71 miles (115 km) west Venice. It’s on the Milan Venice train line.
Getting to Friuli-Venezia Giulia: A recommended base for Friuli is Udine, 25 miles (40 km) north of Trieste, though we haven’t stayed there.
Getting to Sicily: You can fly into Sicily or take a 10-hour ferry from Naples.
Ways of exploring the wines of Italy
In many wine towns you can walk into shops and do impromptu tastings. For some of the wineries you need reservations. There are also travel companies that will organize wine tours for you. Visit winepaths.com for information on luxury tours.